In 2012, in partnership with Stanford University, U.C. Berkeley and NCIIA, Jerry Engel and I first offered the Lean LaunchPad Educators Class. The class was designed to teach educators (and the entrepreneurs that support them) the Lean LaunchPad approach (Business Model Design, Customer Development and Agile Engineering) for teaching entrepreneurship. In addition the class offers a suggested “Lean Entrepreneurship” curriculum and the details of how to teach the capstone Lean LaunchPad class.
Sidnee Peck from Arizona State University’s Carey School of Business attended the last Lean LaunchPad Educators Class. At ASU Sidnee is the Director of Entrepreneurial Initiatives, and the co-facilitator for the Venture Catalyst’s Rapid Startup School. Sidnee taught her own Lean LaunchPad class a week after returning to ASU, (holding some sort of record for a curriculum Pivot.) I asked her to share what she learned in the class and what she learned when she put it to practice. Here’s what she had to say…
As an entrepreneurship educator, I have two goals:
- inspire and encourage students to spark energy around entrepreneurship and their dreams,
- make the reality of entrepreneurship clear enough to prevent students from wasting time on a life decision that is not right for them.
I believe this is best done through experiential learning where students spend most of their time “doing.” I have spent my entire time at Arizona State University trying to find the most effective tools and methods for teaching entrepreneurship to my students in order to achieve these goals. I update my course frequently in an effort to create the optimal learning environment and before the Lean LaunchPad training course I was still searching for the perfect action-oriented learning model.
The Lean LaunchPad Educators course
I truly did not know what to expect when I arrived for the LLP educators course. I had been referred by a colleague in the University’s incubator and did some preliminary reading as the trip approached but wasn’t familiar with the concepts of business models or customer development.
I was blown away by what I actually learn and take away from this experience – it has changed the way I teach and the way I view my time in the classroom. It has also impacted my students’ lives in a significant way.
The biggest surprise I encountered may seem simple, but significantly changed the way I viewed the process. Coming into the course I had been teaching the class on the basis of execution; teaching my students that they needed to be actively setting goals supported by tasks and executing on them. My philosophy was sound (and was supported by many bright people): nothing happens on paper or in the classroom, it all happens outside via real action and interaction.
But on the first day, Steve framed it in a different way: execution of a business plan doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because executing on a business plan that has not been validated is a waste of time and energy. Instead, we should first focus on searching for the best business model and validating our assumptions. After we prove that the model works, then, and only then, execute on it and build a business.
I may have been the only person at the conference who was learning the methodology for the first time and would be applying it upon my return to ASU within the coming week in my fall class. This was bold…but it was a “why wait?” mentality, and I am SO thankful that I went for it. Luckily, I had interviewed students for the course (as I had designed it before coming to the conference) during enrollment months (before I knew I would even teach this methodology) because I knew I wanted only the most passionate and committed students and I would do my best to hold them accountable to executing on their ideas. It took time and preparation to roll this out so quickly, but the materials I received at the conference made it possible. I had a roadmap in front of me, and I just had to be prepared to deliver it.
One of the biggest (and best) surprises from actually teaching the class is the way that students bounce back from the direct and sometimes tough live feedback. I had a major fear that we would scare students right out of the class, but after the first two weeks, they expressed how much they appreciated it, one student tell me that this was his favorite class because he had learned so much in just two weeks. This realization made the rest of the semester easier, knowing that the feedback that is sometimes hard to give and take is the most important, and is valued by the students. We established an environment of trust and a place where we were comfortable being uncomfortable.
What I wish I knew going into the semester is that the interview process and student selection is incredibly impactful on the success of the class. In an effort to be inclusive, I allowed any student who had a business he/she wanted to launch enroll. Going forward, I will be much more particular based on each student’s readiness. I did get quite lucky, however, as the majority of my students are a good fit and truly want to work on their business models. Some, however, are not ready. They need to mature a bit before the LLP process will hit home with them and I should defer these students to a later year.
In the future I will also train my mentors in a more significant way. I had an incredible pool of experienced entrepreneurs and business people to choose from – but without fully understanding the customer development process, some were steering my students way off track (asking for business plans!) and I had to pull them back when we met in class.
I also wish I could have recruited more in-class advisors to give live feedback…this was challenging because of my timeline, and while I did get a fair number to visit, more would have been welcomed. There is an art to giving the right type of feedback in the right manner at the right time. It takes practice, and the more experts we have in the room, the more powerful it can be.
The best part about the whole thing is, of course, the results my students have experienced from giving the process the attention it deserves. I was blown away by how hard undergrads would work for their business idea. I was impressed EVERY week by the outside work that was done and the number of interviews performed. There were incredible learning points every single week and over the course of the semester multiple businesses made first sales, gained new customers, launched, and one even got hired by a competitor to roll his product into a product line through a proprietary manufacturing process. Because of this success I have seen increased interest from other colleges and from the MBA program…spring will be an incredible class!
- The student interview process and selection is critical
- Undergraduates can handle the class
- Students bounce back from the direct and sometimes tough live feedback
- Align and train mentors to embrace customer development
- Go for it!